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Caribbean Islands-SOCIAL AND CULTURAL CHARACTERISTICS





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Caribbean Islands Index

With the exception of Trinidad, where East Indians and Africans are nearly equal in number, the Caribbean states have predominantly African-derived populations. Race, ethnicity, class, and color, however, do not constitute the mutually reinforcing cleavages found elsewhere. No regional political or social organization is based exclusively on race, class, or color. Overt forms of segregation and discrimination do not exist, and crude political appeals to race and color have not been successful. Nevertheless, color consciousness permeates the societies, and various forms of more subtle social discrimination against non-Christians and East Indians, for example, have persisted.

Despite the common official language, common institutions, and common historical experience, each island and state has a distinct set of characteristics. For example, the local inflection of the English spoken in Jamaica varies significantly from that spoken in Barbados or Trinidad. Literacy rates also vary greatly from between 75 and 80 percent in Jamaica and St. Lucia to almost universal literacy in Trinidad, Barbados, and the Bahamas.

In a region where a constant racial and cultural mixing over centuries have resulted in extreme heterogeneity, any ethnic ideal clashes with the observed reality of everyday life. Nevertheless, ideals exist, often based on European models, and are at variance with the expressed rhetoric of the political majority, which tries to emphasize the African cultural heritage. At all levels of Caribbean societies, tensions exist between centrifugal state policies and ideals on the one hand and individual beliefs, family, and kin on the other. These tensions are exacerbated by the fragile political structures and even more delicate economic foundations on which a viable, cohesive nationalism must be forged among the Commonwealth Caribbean peoples. The most urgent challenges for the new political leaders lie in satisfying the constantly rising expectations amid the reality of constantly shrinking resources.

Perhaps as a result of its heterogeneity, the area is extremely dynamic culturally, producing a veritable explosion of local talent after World War II. Poets and novelists of international renown include Samuel Selvon, V.S. Naipaul, and Earl Lovelace from Trinidad; Derek Walcott from St. Lucia; George Lamming from Barbados; and Mervyn Morris, Vic Reid, John Hearne, Andrew Salkey, and Roger Mais from Jamaica. In painting and sculpture, the late Edna Manley was universally recognized. Commonwealth Caribbean music in the form of the calypso, reggae, ska, and steelband orchestra have captivated listeners around the world. Like the people themselves, art forms in the Caribbean demonstrate an eclectic variety harmoniously combining elements of European, African, Asian, and indigenous American traditions.

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General regional historical background on the islands of the Commonwealth Caribbean may be obtained from Franklin W. Knight, The Caribbean: The Genesis of a Fragmented Nationalism; Eric Williams, From Columbus to Castro. The History of the Caribbean, 1492-1969; John Parry and Philip Sherlock, A Short History of the West Indies; and Gordon K. Lewis, The Growth of the Modern West Indies. Much useful information also is available in Baedeker's Caribbean Including Bermuda, as well as EPICA, The Caribbean. Survival, Struggle and Sovereignty. For individual political histories, see Michael Craton, A History of the Bahamas; George E. Eaton, Alexander Bustamante and Modern Jamaica, Norman Washington Manley, The New Jamaica: Selected Speeches and Writings, 1938-1968; Trevor Munroe, The Politics of Constitutional Decolonization; George Brizan, Grenada, Island of Conflict; W. Richard Jacobs and Ian Jacobs, Grenada: Route to Revolution; David Lewis, Reform and Revolution in Grenada, 1950-1981; and Bridget Brereton, A History of Modern Trinidad. Economic information may be found in the annual reports published by the Inter-American Development Bank for the member states, i.e., the Bahamas, Barbados, Jamaica, and Trinidad and Tobago. For other views, see J.R. Mandle, Patterns of Caribbean Development: An Interpretative Essay on Economic Change; Ransford Palmer, Problems of Development in Beautiful Countries and Caribbean Dependence on the United States Economy; Anthony Payne and Paul Sutton, Dependency Under Challenge: The Political Economy of the Commonwealth Caribbean; and Clive Y. Thomas, Plantations, Peasants and State. For migration information, see Robert Pastor, ed., Migration and Development in the Caribbean. For information about relations with the United States, Lester Langley's The United States and the Caribbean in the Twentieth Century is very useful. (For complete citations and further information, see Bibliography.)

Data as of November 1987



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